Wayne Bennett's staggering call on Jack Wighton as preferred destination emerges

After Jack Wighton stunned the Canberra Raiders, Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett has made a typically bold NRL claim.

Wayne Bennett and Jack Wighton.
Wayne Bennett has made no secret of the Dolphins desire to recruit Canberra Raiders veteran Jack Wighton. Pictures: Getty Images

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett says the club would be prepared to pay 'more than $1 million' to recruit Canberra Raiders veteran Jack Wighton. The 224-game veteran five-eighth revealed he's set to test the NRL market in the off-season despite spending his entire career with the Raiders.

Wighton could yet stay in Canberra for 2024 if he exercises an option in his contract before a deadline in round 10, but has already indicated he intends to hit the open market for the first time in his career. His agent reportedly heard from no less than 10 other teams in the 12 hours since the announcement was made on Wednesday.

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According to Phil Gould, Wighton has harboured a desire to move to Queensland for some time - leaving the Dolphins, Gold Coast Titans and Brisbane Broncos well placed. However Gould also believes winning a premiership also plays on Wighton's mind, having come agonisingly close in 2019.

With the expectations low for the Dolphins heading into the season, their 3-1 record after four rounds, plus an abundance of salary cap space, could thrust them into contention. Bennett made no bones about his fondness for the Raiders star when asked about his potential availability.

"If we thought he was the right fit for the club and brought the things that we need then we would probably pay more than $1million," Bennett said. "That's not the issue. The issue is, 'Does he fit our needs? Do we suit him?'

"They are the things that we've all got to talk about and work out. He is a very competitive player, highly skilled and has been a great servant of the game. He plays a number of positions."

Bennett didn't indicate which position they Dolphins were considering for Wighton, only that they were 'looking at him' and would engage with his management at some point. In the meantime, the Raiders are absolutely determined to retain the Wighton, who has played almost every position across the backline at some point in his Raiders career.

Raiders desperate to retain Jack Wighton amid Dolphins interest

Head coach Ricky Stuart, who's consistently talked about his admiration of Wighton, says he's got every right to test the market and find his worth as the 30-year-old seeks a longer-term deal. He's already made it clear to Wighton that the Raiders want him to be a one-club player, but doesn't blame the veteran for considering his options.

"Jack knows I want him here, that's the most important thing for me," he said. "He knows my feelings about him as a person and as a football player and I want him to be a Raider, but that decision is taken out of my hands, that's up to Jack.

"I haven't spoken to Jack about it, but it's not uncommon for a number of players that have those clauses in their contracts ... over the last 12-18 months, there's been a number of players who have tested the open market. Jack's got to make a decision to make, so that's where it's at."

The Dolphins have Sean O'Sullivan, Anthony Milford and rookie Isaiya Katoa on the books in the halves. They also have fullback well covered with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow starting the season on fire.

The Dolphins have significant room in their cap for a playmaker after missing out on targets such as Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster. It is a situation that has unfolded due to circumstances and by design.

Jack Wighton plays the ball against the North Queensland Cowboys.
Jack Wighton looms as one of the hottest free agents in the NRL, with the Raiders veteran set to decline an option for next season. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

"It is just the position we have found ourselves in," Bennett said. "We've approached someone and they haven't wanted to come here, so it is a bit of both.

"We will not be buying players that can't meet the pressure test here I can tell you. We will play with 15 or 13 if we have to, if we can't get the right 17."

With AAP

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